- Bojangles: A Southern Cajun fried chicken chain serving what we all agree is the best chicken ever, and equally amazing buttermilk biscuits. The outlet in Savannah, GA is our favorite, and expansion both north and south from the company’s North Carolina headquarters makes for even more yum on the road.
- Popeye’s, Chick-fil-A, Kentucky Fried Chicken: Viable alternatives if we are all of a mind for fried chicken (Chick-fil-A locations are closed on Sundays).
- Subway: A refreshing fast food alternative, the kids love choosing their sandwich and the fresh baked bread.
- Wendy’s: The Frosty is our go-to bribe for long day in the car, and it soothes the restless souls in the backseat (front seat, too).
- Dairy Queen: A good ice cream option, and in some areas, a great burger and fries (I can still taste the chicken fried steak served in Texas DQs when I was a kid).
- Sonic: On a road trip, eating in the car can be less than ideal, but when the weather is nice enough to eat outside, this old fashioned chain — car hops on roller skates and outdoor dining — serves up modernly fresh burgers and fries, and the milkshakes are fabulous.
Admit it: There are things we all do on the road that we would never do at home. Candy for breakfast, gossip magazines as intellectual stimulation, milkshakes for dinner. But truthfully, our vices are part of what makes travel possible. Whether by air or auto, every trip has its indulgences and compromises that smooth the passage, and with apps to enhance the trip (a short list is below) travel just got a whole lot better. Here are our family faves for East Coast trips:
Food: We love foods and restaurants we don’t have at home, and also, chains that we don’t get to visit often.
Shopping: strategic shopping before and during a trip is key. Pre-trip excursions always start at Trader Joe’s, where neatly packaged trail mixes and well- priced power bars and water bottles fill the snack bag. Stops along the road for things we’ve forgotten–sunglasses, charger cords, batteries– are first made at Dollar Tree, where they usually have what we need and everyone can get an inexpensive treat at checkout (and everything is, yes, a dollar). Other favorites include TJ Maxx and Marshalls, and when we are on I-95 in central North Carolina, a stop at the Soffee outlet for bargain priced shorts, yoga pants and other athletic wear.
Convenience stops: The term “convenience” may seem like code for a poor selection of high priced junk food and dirty bathrooms, but the concept has been reengineered and redefined by a few chains that have made their stores not just a convenience, but a destination.
Wawa: This Pennsylvania-based chain got its start as a dairy store selling milk and dairy products, and in addition to convenience items, sells fresh made sandwiches, salads and other healthy foods at grocery store comparable prices. In the last few years, Wawa added gas to its offerings, making a great one-stop way to fuel everyone, even the family car. Chains with similar values — customer service, quality, value — include QuikTrip in Sunbelt states and Sheetz in the mid Atlantic.
Starbucks: This is a staple at home too, but on the road this chain’s drive throughs, clean bathrooms, consistently great coffee and quality snacks are are a destination.
During the drive: My, how far we’ve come from mind-numbing rounds of I Spy and license plate counting. But keeping track of cds and dvds can be a challenge. It’s worth breaking the bank on the data plan and putting these apps on your smart phone or tablet, and they play fairly well on a 3G network:
Pandora (free with ads, plus data charges): plug in a favorite song or artist and get everyone singing and dancing. Just crossed into Tennessee? Plug in Lady Antebellum and belt it out! Hitting Phillie in a few miles? Earth Wind and Fire will get you rollin’. Next stop California? Katy Perry has a song for that!
Netflix: ($8/month plus data charges) This streaming service gives you access to an enormous library of TV shows and movies. ABC Family’s library in particular keeps peace in the back seat.
HBO Go: (Home subscription plus data charges) The pay channel’s lineup is at your fingertips, and playback adjusts to the network you are on (3G, 4 G, wifi).
Audible.com (subscription or per title fee): If you can’t download audio books to your phone from your local library, this source has all the best sellers (we listened to a Hunger Games book on our last trip).
End Of the Road: As a goal oriented family, our destination is the point of the trip, and getting there is the focus. So, to reward all that focus, we plan for a good meal and and a fun hotel experience at the end of the day.
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Restaurants: Applebee’s tops our list of late night destinations. Because they serve until 11 PM (midnight on weekends), we can push the drive until 9 or 10 PM and still have a relaxing meal and a beer. And, after 10 PM, appetizers are half price– cheaper than fast food. Other family favorites include Chili’s, Logan’s Roadhouse and Texas Roadhouse. If we can’t find a dine-in option, a late night hotel room pizza party with Papa John’s, Domino’s or Little Caesar’s is a hit, too.
Hotels: Probably the most important part of a successful trip is the hotel: unrested travelers make for crabby companions. Our first choice–by far– is Aloft. A new concept from Starwood, its hip, comfy lobby/bar is a perfect place to unwind, have a drink, order small plates of food (sliders, salads, spring rolls and the like), and let the kids shoot pool, swim or watch sports on one of the lobby’s many large screens. Another winning new hotel (also from Starwood) is Element. Peaceably Zen in its mood and decor, this hotel will refresh and relax at the end of the day. Other favorites include Country Inn & Suites, Homewood Suites, or any motel that has been newly renovated.
Apps: Even with good planning, finding all you need to settle everyone down for the night is helped out with a few apps. First, to ensure the best hotel choice, check the reviews; Yelp, Trip Advisor or Google Reviews will give you opinions from from prior guests on what you might expect from motels and restaurants. Once settled in for the night, we find it’s helpful to unwind while watching a family comedy on Netflix. Or if you just need a grown up laugh, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon has it’s own very good iPad app.
Hotels.com: Find local hotel deals by GPS location (or using the app’s map), as well as photos and reviews
Around Me: Find closest places by category and GPS location ( coffee, restaurants, pharmacies, etc.)
Cheap Gas: Gas prices by GPS location
Google Maps: Map your route, search directions, get traffic information, count down the miles to your destination
Inrix: The leading provider of traffic information, this app’s maps include the location of road work and accidents
Find Discount Stores: Map nearby discounters or search for one on your route.
I 95 Exit Guide: Details offerings at each exit
Yelp: Restaurant, hotel and other reviews from real people.
Pandora: Create your own radio station
Netflix: Streaming of TV shows and movies
HBO Go: The pay channel’s library, streamed on demand
Audible.com: Download audio books to listen to with your kids (or if you’re lucky, they will listen on headphones!)
Your local library: Most libraries have a download partner (with a smartphone/tablet app), which will allow you to download audio and e-books for your trip.